Review: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom - Cory Doctorow

Like I often do, I went into this book blind, not knowing anything about the plot, and I assumed the title was some sort of a metaphor for a superficial society.  In fact, most of the book is actually set within Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.  

My progress through the book went something like this:
1. At the end of the prologue, I was positive I would hate this book.  

2. At the end of chapter 1, I decided there might be some hope after all.  

3. Somewhere around the middle of the book, I realized my Kindle had permanently affixed itself into my hands.  

4. When I finished the book, on the same day I had started it, I just sat there thinking, “How on Earth am I going to rate this?”

This is a science fiction story that takes place in the future, and life on Earth has changed a lot.  Everybody’s brain is hooked up directly to an Internet-like interface that people can use to pull up information at any time.  The way people react to you, to the things you do and the way you act, are instantly translated into a “Whuffie” score.  This works as a sort of currency; there’s no longer any actual money.  There’s also no more death.  You can make a “backup” of yourself whenever you want and, if you die, a clone is grown and your memories are restored from the backup.  This has become so common-place that nearly everybody will have themselves killed just to avoid sitting through a long trip in “real time”.

The world-building was pretty interesting.  The characters were also interesting but, in retrospect, not very likeable.  The plot itself is a little thin, basically centering on an argument about whether to change the attractions in the Liberty Square section of the Magic Kingdom.  It doesn’t sound like a particularly exciting plot, especially to somebody like me who has no attachment to the Magic Kingdom whatsoever, but the book held my interest anyway.

I’m not sure how I felt about the ending.  In the prologue, we were pretty much told how the story would end, but the reader doesn’t know enough at that point to understand what they’ve been told.  Still, if you have any sort of reading retention skills, you’re probably going to know how the story ends long before it happens.  It was the stuff that happened a little bit before the very end that surprised me more.  I don’t think I was very satisfied by the ending, even if it seemed appropriate in a way.  I like to at least see some sense of change, preferably improvement, at the end of a story, but I didn’t feel like anything significant had changed by the end.

I’m torn between giving this three or four stars.  BookLikes makes this easy; I can just give it 3.5 stars.  But on Goodreads, do I round up or round down?  I decided to round down because I don’t think I enjoyed this quite on the same level as what I would usually expect from a four-star book.

If you made it this far and you’re interested in trying the book, I found it for free at the author’s web site: